News Analysis

Australian Catholics say farewell to the John Paul II Institute

Gift bags contained Veritatis Splendor (Margaret Hookway)

Last month, more than 70 people gathered for a formal farewell commemorating the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne, which officially closes on December 31.

Australia’s only pontifical academy, the institute was established in 2001 and was known for its orthodoxy in the areas of marriage, family, bioethics and education. It has seen more than 1,500 students pass through its doors. When Melbourne archdiocese announced its closure in 2016, saying it had become a “financial burden”, a group of 1,200 people campaigned to save it.

Cardinal George Pell, in absentia, sent a four-page letter of support that was read aloud. Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott of Melbourne, the institute’s director (pictured), addressed those gathered, speaking of the deep “shame” of the closure.

Although it had some elements of a wake, the mood was not morbid. The night, hosted by the soon-to-be-disbanded Students’ Association, featured a jazz ensemble, canapés and an open bar, and was designed to celebrate the best years of the institute. (Guests were given gift bags containing tissues, chocolates and copies of Veritatis Splendor.) It was a tribute to 17 years of teaching and scholarship which has resulted in a worldwide network of academics and alumni committed to Catholic anthropology.

One lecturer said the mood was one of “bright sadness”. Not a few commented that the institute had closed at just the right moment, given Pope Francis’s restructuring of the remaining 12 branches of the John Paul II Institute. (The institute in Rome, with which Melbourne was affiliated, has been renamed the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences and its foundational document Familiaris Consortio replaced with Amoris Laetitia.)

It is uncertain if there are any plans to replace the Melbourne institute. Most of the staff have accepted other appointments, both at home and abroad. The last graduation ceremony will take place in April.